Devaluing parliamentary privilege as vital tenet in a democracy…

Great piece by a very measured Mick Clifford on what constitutes an abuse of Parliamentary privilege in Dail Eireann. Takes for an example the ways in which two TDs – Mick Wallace and Claire Daly – who have each made important contributions to investigations into Garda practice have strayed across a crucial line:

Filtering is required to find out which have substance and demand further attention. My friend in North Cork is not alone in harbouring a grudge against a member of the force. Others genuinely believe their serious allegations have substance, but that belief may be contaminated by a grievance of one sort or another. Just because somebody has a legitimate grievance, it does not automatically follow that malpractice is at issue. And then, there are the allegations that do have substance.

A review panel is examining around 300 cases where garda malpractice is alleged. Inevitably, a large number of these will be deemed to be unworthy of further examination. That’s what filtering is about.

Using Dáil privilege as a filter is not on. For that privilege to retain its power and legitimacy, it needs to be used sparingly and within the framework for which it was designed.

The cavalier manner in which privilege appears to have been availed of by Wallace and Daly is in a different league to its cynical use by Mary Lou McDonald, who named former politicians as being suspected of tax evasion and cover up. (The politicians all deniedit subsequently).

It does, however, further devalue a concept which is a vital tenet in a democracy. There is understandable disaffection with mainstream politics right now, but that does not legitimise the devaluing of all traditions of parliament, particularly one that is a valuable tool in particular circumstances. Let’s be careful out there.

Such abuse of a process privileged to parliamentarians may have been a reason why when asked in 2011 to give Dail committees full investigative powers, they were turned down.